As this week’s celebration of  Medical-Surgical Nurses Week wraps up, Minority Nurse connected with a nurse leader who knows about the career path after more than two decades as a med-surg nurse.

Jennifer Kennedy, MSN, RN-BC, CMSRN, CNE, and a director on the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN) Board of Directors, has spent most of her career as a medical-surgical nurse in roles as diverse as direct care provider to medical-surgical nurse educator. She also teaches med-surg nursing in a nursing program at George Williams College of Aurora University in Williams Bay, WI.

Here’s what Kennedy told Minority Nurse about med-surg nursing.

What makes this specialty so rewarding for nurses who choose it?

If you’ve ever been hospitalized or visited a patient in the hospital, the nurse who cared for you or your loved one was most likely a medical-surgical nurse.

Medical-surgical nursing is the single largest nursing specialty in the United States. Med-surg nurses practice primarily on hospital units and care for adult patients who are acutely ill with a wide variety of medical issues or are recovering from surgery. They provide care 24/7 and have more face time with patients than any other professional in the hospital.

Med-surg as a specialty is so appealing and rewarding because med-surg nurses are the master coordinators of the unit, juggling care for many patients at a time while keeping the entire health care team on the same page. They have high-level critical thinking skills, vast clinical knowledge, and are able to stay calm under pressure. Many nursing specialties require similar skill sets, but it is the intense level of coordination from the time patients arrive until after they leave the hospital that distinguishes med-surg nursing.

I personally feel med-surg nursing is so rewarding because of the relationships I develop with my patients and their families, as well as the ability to contribute to my patients’ comfort and recovery.

What are the biggest challenges facing medical-surgical nurses today?

At any moment, a med-surg nurse is juggling care for several patients–administering medications, educating families, discharging patients and admitting new ones, all while keeping the entire health care team on the same page.

As the go-to health care professional on the unit, the med-surg nurse needs high-level critical thinking skills, vast knowledge of disease states and body systems, robust management skills, and the ability to stay calm under pressure.

Med-surg nurses are always in motion physically, clinically, intellectually, and emotionally. They are coordinating care around the clock.

Many nursing specialties require similar skill sets, but it is the intense level of coordination from the time patients arrive on the unit until after they leave – including post-discharge considerations like transportation and home health care – that distinguishes med-surg nursing.

There’s another unique aspect of the specialty: med-surg nurses are well educated in the workings of all body systems and are also familiar with a sweeping number of illnesses. They never know what complex disease states their next patient may have, thus they need to be ready and prepared for anything.

Once they have assessed and treated their patients, med-surg nurses then take it a step further, helping their patients achieve wellness and transition home safely and well-prepared.

If someone is interested in becoming a medical-surgical nurse, what kind of steps will help them get there?

Nurses who graduate with an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) are hired for medical-surgical positions quite often. However, a BSN is increasingly preferred, and continuing on to receive this degree after hire may be a condition of employment. Once you receive a nursing degree, you will be required to take a state licensure examination, the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).  Each state board of nursing provides the exam to determine whether or not a candidate is prepared for entry-level nursing practice. Once the individual has successfully completed the NCLEX exam, he or she is licensed as a registered nurse.

Newly graduated nurses will find internship/residency programs for the medical-surgical specialty at most hospitals. Internships involve a didactic component as well as a preceptorship with an experienced nurse to help new graduates transition into their new role.

In general, how can an organization like AMSN help med-surg nurses?

AMSN serves a community of medical-surgical nurses who care about improving patient care, developing personally and professionally, advocating for the specialty, and connecting with other nurses who share their compassion and commitment. Membership provides wide range of key and timely resources to help support med-surg nurses.

Along with education opportunities and an excellent annual convention, AMSN offers grants, scholarships and awards to support members. The association provides networking at the local, regional, and national levels, as well as in our online community, the AMSN Hub. There is also career guidance, volunteer, and leadership opportunities and member discounts on all products and services.

One of the greatest benefits AMSN has to offer is helping nurses become certified. We work in tandem with the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB), which offers the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN®) credential. Certification is important because it validates your expert, specialized knowledge, and enables you to maintain an innovative edge in your career. It really is one of the most positive and powerful achievements you will obtain during your nursing career.

Once you successfully pass the CMSRN exam, the confidence and satisfaction you gain by becoming certified allows you to demonstrate your professional commitment to promoting quality patient care. Employers notice this, increasing your earning power as well garnering respect from patients and colleagues.

AMSN welcomes med-surg nurses to become part of our community. Like most nurses, I started my med-surg nursing career as a new graduate. I learned very quickly that this is what I was meant to do. Med-surg nursing has provided me with an exciting career and a great amount of opportunities for growth.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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